How to Cope with Other People’s Reactions to Your Mental Health
The Internet became my training wheels to having the in-person conversations about what the world inside my mind looked like, and how it affected my everyday external life and my own physical being. I live with anxiety that sits in my stomach on the hardest days. I’ve lost both my mom and my grandma, who raised me, and the grief of those experiences has grown up with me and will never leave.
Learning to take the training wheels off so I could have conversations instead of one-sided dialogues with the Internet required effort. It also required making that choice to take the wheels off in the first place.
“To be able to even name what is going on to someone else is not easy,” explains psychotherapist Priti Doshi, LP. “It's definitely courageous and bold.”
I realized that at first, I had that conversation with myself on a public forum because it was the only place where I felt safe to do so. Now, the goal has been to expand the spaces where I feel safe speaking openly about my mental health to include my closest loved ones and my therapist.
Allowing others in means surrendering to not being able to control their every reaction to what you say, which is rough, but not unsurvivable. Especially if you prepare yourself for the conversations with them just as you did with the conversations with yourself.
1. When Talking to Others, Be Honest with Yourself
Doshi suggests that the best way to cope with a loved one’s reaction actually starts before you even speak to them. Start by being honest with yourself about two important variables—who you are talking to and what you assume their reaction will be.
“Being realistic [helps],” shares Doshi. “It’s something to ask, 'when I tell my [partner] or parents difficult things, how do they receive me?'"
Asking this simple question can help prepare you emotionally for what may come next and further prepare a plan to deal with it if their reactions aren’t positive.
2. Remind Yourself How Far You’ve Come
If you were to receive feedback that feels negative, starting with reaffirming yourself is key.
“This isn't so much a coping mechanism, but my first thought is you should be really proud of yourself,” shares Doshi. “Having a relationship with oneself and [reminding yourself] that [sharing] is hard for a lot of people… a lot of times these are the areas we feel shame, guilt, and a lot of pain. Good for you [and] it's okay, you’re going to be okay.”
Doshi suggests finding a creative outlet of your choosing to help create something out of the pride that you can point to and be reminded that you are brave, no matter anyone else’s reaction.
“[Turning to] a self-soothing mechanism when you don't have anyone to mutually help you regulate is an important piece,” explains Doshi. “There are ways that you can draw from within yourself and the creative space is a great way of processing feelings.”
3. Have a Backup Plan
Once my therapist and I developed more of a relationship, she became one of the safest places for me to go after a hard, emotionally vulnerable moment.
Doshi encourages anyone who is choosing to open up to loved ones about their mental health to also find someone who they can turn to just in case encounters with others don’t go well. The key here is finding someone who will validate you, positively reinforce you, and help you find perspective.
“[You want] someone you can feel safe with that you can say, you know, I didn't feel heard,” notes Doshi. “Someone who's going to help you kind of sit with what that was like and even possibly give you some guidance."
4. Set Boundaries
More than any other piece of advice, Doshi underscores the importance of setting boundaries and not ignoring the lines that your loved one may have crossed.
“Boundaries are very important,” adds Doshi. “If you're not getting the support [you need], and always receiving negative feedback, it’s actually destructive for you. It’s very important to stop talking to them [about it]. Choose [prioritizing] boundaries, self-protection, and self-preservation instead.
In fact, the advice on boundaries holds true whether a loved one has had a negative reaction or a positive one. No matter their reaction, it’s always okay to say that you’ve shared enough and are choosing to not share anymore.
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